BERLIN — Residents of Worcester County turned out in force last week for a special Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) interest meeting in Berlin, resulting in an unexpected jam at the beginning of the meeting.
“We have an extreme bottleneck here,” said Robin Danforth, a study manager at Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Like I said, we really were not expecting the numbers that we have here right now.”
Instead of having a mass lecture, the meeting was divided into seven stations for the 300-plus attendees. There was an area for check-in and another for reference material. The five main stations included Property Location and Identification, Community Map Review and Compliance, Appeals and Comments, Flood Insurance and finally Mitigation Ideas.
“Tonight is really an opportunity for you to gain a little understanding of if the changes in the maps are going to impact you,” Danforth told the crowd. “So what we’ve done is we have several stations that have been set up.”
However, the massive turnout clogged up the process, bottlenecking many residents at the Property Location and Identification station. FEMA quickly changed the system, adding extra stations and suggesting that people begin to circulate instead of wait for the first station.
“I know that it is a little confusing,” Danforth said in an apologetic tone.
But even with the early cluster, officials were excited to see such a large amount of interest in the community. Worcester County Commission President Bud Church came into the meeting with low expectations.
“We’d like to have 200 or 250,” he said. “Realistically, if 30 show up we’ll be lucky.”
The county estimates that about 300 attended over the course of the three-hour information session. It was a pleasant surprise for Commissioner Judy Boggs. Like Church, Boggs hadn’t expected nearly as much interest in the meeting as it managed to draw.
While the county has been hammering the importance of individual homeowners being knowledgeable about changes to flood plains through a several month advertisement and awareness campaign, other recent public information meetings like the one on voter re-districting failed to excite the community.
“It’s very gratifying after the turnout that we received with the re-zoning,” Boggs said.
While much of the crowd focused on the Flood Insurance station, there also appeared to be a large number who were merely interested about how the floodplains will be changing, even if their property won’t be impacted.
“I figured people would be curious because any time that you try to change something people get curious,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.
Ocean Pines and Berlin residents showed a strong turnout though few if any currently fall under the changing floodplains. Carolyn Cummins, a former county planning commissioner, was in attendance at the meeting just as an onlooker. She recognized many in the crowd as residents who live outside of the affected area.
“Mostly Ocean Pines and there are a few people from Berlin but I just think that’s curiosity because they’re not really impacted at all,” she said.
But there were many at the meeting who do have a vested interest in how the maps will change. Since the amendments were announced, the commission has been worried that the new maps will take some still vulnerable properties out of flood zones. This may mean that the owners won’t need to maintain flood insurance any longer but would suffer if they drop their coverage and receive heavy damage from a flooding event.
The question that Shockley hoped every property owner asked was how the individual rates would be affected if they chose to maintain insurance but were removed from a flood zone.
Specifically, he wondered if the government would still subsidize any funding for flood insurance if a property is outside of the flood plain.
“I’m hoping that somebody is asking the question. If we have that vacation home and you take me out, am I still eligible for federal funding?” he asked.
Those properties would not be eligible, according to Danforth.
“It would not be subsidized,” she told Shockley.
However, the funding loss should be offset by a corresponding decrease in flood insurance costs. If a property is outside of a flood zone, the risk of flooding will be lower and so will the rates consequently.
“If they are now designated outside of the special flood housing area, when the maps go effective because they’re preliminary maps right now, they will be rated based upon the actuary risk,” Danforth said.
Worcester will need to adopt the FRIMs over the next six to nine months. The county will be working with both FEMA and the Maryland Department of the Environment to see the maps put in place.